I have been a Fitbit user for almost a year now. It started with the Fitbit Flex, the simplistic but yet sophisticated Internet-connected pedometer. It is simple really: instead of having a device you have to carry around hanging from your waist, the Fitbit Flex is a smartdevice that you wear a bracelet.
The Flex is very simple in its interface: five LEDs will give you instant feedback (a double-tap and it will flash a nubmer of the LEDs corresponding each a 20% of your main goal, non-stop taps will switch between sleep and wake tracker, and that's pretty much it).
With the Charge model, Fitbit has improved on the sophistication while keeping things simple. The new Fitbit Charge automatically senses when you're sleeping (so no more manual switching between modes), it measures stairs as well as steps taken. And it shows the time too! All this controlled with a single button.
The Fibit Charge is not a smartwatch, but it's close. A single button allows you to cycle through showing time, steps, stairs, distance and shows the next alarm time. Because it shows the time, you can easily replace having a watch and a Fitbit device with a single bracelet. It also functions as a smartphone companion, with the option to notify you of incoming calls by vibrating and showing a message on its OLED display.
The device itself is very light and comfortable to wear. After a while it will not bother you any more than a watch would, perhaps even less. Because it is so light you don't really notice it there. Unlike a watch though it doesn't have an option to have the time always showing so you will need both hands to be able to see time and other stats - you can also show a (user selectable) stat by double-tapping it. You can chose what to show on this action and what watch design you want from the website or from the mobile app.
Its silent alarm option is very handy and easy to setup too. Instead of a noisy alarm clock or radio, the Charge will let you know it's time to wake up with its vibration function. You can have single or repeating alarms. This also gets some points if you share the space with someone else, who won't have the noisy wake up call they may not care about.
Setup is very easy, like other Fitbit devices. In my case I was replacing an existing device and after installing an updated version of the Fitbit desktop software I logged in and prepared to setup. The program asked noted I already have a device in my account and if I wanted to replace it. I just confirmed it and it was ready to go.
Battery seems to last a week, similar to what the Fitbit Flex model provides, even though the Charge has a display and a notification feature that requires more communication with your smartphone. The only thing I didn't feel so enthusiastic about is the fact it uses a special USB adapter to plug into the back of the device for recharging. It would be so good if it just used the standard USB plug we already have around the house.
The Fitbit Charge can transfer data to the Fitbit service via your smartphone (Android, iOS or Windows Phone) or your PC using a supplied USB wireless adapter. You will probably notice that with a display showing instant stats you feel less inclined to sync to check your daily progress. You don't have to sync every day though, as the tracker will keep up to a week of data safely, ready for sync to their web service. The website is where you get stats including current and historical data, as well as comparisons to your "friends" - yes, another social interaction there.
From my experience the sleep tracking is pretty accurate - automatically logging even those "power naps" you take in the sofa during the weekend. It reports the bed times with good accuracy and it does show when you're awake. The step counter function is also pretty good, considering it is a device you constantly have on you, instead of a pedometer you have to remember to attach to your belt every day.
But does it improve your exercise cycle? It of course depends on you, but it is a pretty complete tracking and if you want it can be the challenge that keeps you moving. I personally changed some of my habits just to reach those "goals". Changes include getting off the bus a few stops before my destination and walking a bit further before hopping on a bus when going back home. I also walk around during lunch time, which makes a big difference.
I should know it because we also have a Fitbit Aria at home. The Aria is an electronics scale that measures up to eight individuals and syncs the measurements to your Fitbit account over WiFi. My weight is trending down consistently since I started using the Fitbit devices.
If you want an in-depth story of the Fitbit technology (and to find out more about trackers in general), you can get the excellent Trackers - How technology is helping us monitor and improve our health, available now on Amazon.
The Fitbit Charge is no doubt a step-up from the Flex model. Looking forward to the Charge HR (with heart rate tracking) and the Surge (a full smartwatch version) which are coming to New Zealand in early 2015.